House Republican leaders are launching an all-out campaign to sink a bipartisan infrastructure bill, as Democratic leaders struggle to unite their caucus around the legislation ahead of a high-stakes floor vote on Thursday.
While the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package contains popular items widely supported by both parties — and earned the backing of 19 Republicans in the Senate — GOP leaders in the House want to ensure that Republicans won’t be the reason the bill gets over the finish line and have begun to crank up the pressure on their members.
Both House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise have been making personal calls to members and talking to lawmakers on the House floor, according to GOP sources. And while Republican leaders are not threatening members who back the bill, they are being forceful with their pitches, those sources said.
“Our argument is that infrastructure is a gateway drug to reconciliation,” a source familiar with the whip operation said.
The source expects between a dozen and 20 House Republicans will vote “yes” on the legislation, but said it wouldn’t be enough to offset the mass defections progressives are threatening if the bill comes to the floor without a deal on legislation to expand the social safety net through reconciliation.
“There won’t be enough Republicans to carry this if there is widespread opposition,” the person said.
One Republican member said the whipping operation was “pretty intense.” Another Republican described the effort as an “8 out of 10.” And a third House Republican said, “We’re very serious about it.”
While GOP leaders have acknowledged that there will be some Republicans who cross party lines, Scalise said at a press conference earlier this week that they will “work to keep that number as low as we possibly can.”
The scramble to limit GOP defections underscores just how high the stakes are for both parties. President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda is on the verge of imploding as Democratic leaders struggle to unite the warring factions inside their party. And Republicans — keenly aware that the passage of infrastructure and reconciliation may be Democrats’ best hope for keeping their majorities next year — are eager to keep the spotlight on the disarray across the aisle.
Moderate Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy, co-chairwoman of the Blue Dog Coalition, slammed both Republicans and progressive Democrats for not supporting the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
“I urge my Republican colleagues to abandon their cynical quest for political advantage and to vote for this good bill,” she said on the House floor Wednesday. “And I ask my Democratic colleagues to discard their ill-fated effort to gain leverage over members of their own party and to vote for this good bill.”
This marks the second time this year that House GOP leadership has worked against a bill that was crafted by members of their own conference. Earlier this year, Republican leaders informally encouraged GOP members to oppose a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection, even after McCarthy deputized one of his own allies to cut a deal on the bill.
In both cases, there appears to be a common denominator: Donald Trump. The former President still holds massive sway over the House GOP conference, and was publicly opposed to both the January 6 commission as well as the infrastructure bill. Taking a cue from Trump, some members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus have even threatened to campaign against their Republican colleagues who support the infrastructure package.
A counter whip operation emerges
But even as House GOP leaders work overtime to doom the infrastructure bill, something of a counter whip operation has started to emerge in recent weeks. Republican senators, GOP governors and outside industry groups have been calling on-the-fence House Republicans and encouraging them to back the bill, according to members who have been on the receiving end of the calls.
The US Chamber of Commerce has also dialed up its pressure campaign, targeting a list of 57 GOP members and hosting meetings with House Republicans. The pro-business group has also organized satellite meetings in 20 different target markets and urged viewers to contact their representatives to support the bill.
So far, only a handful of House Republicans have publicly committed to supporting the bipartisan infrastructure bill, including Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Don Bacon of Nebraska and Tom Reed of New York. But other moderate Republicans find themselves caught between a desire to support a package that would deliver popular items for their districts and not wanting to hand Democrats a victory while bucking their own party leadership.
The group of Senate Republicans that voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill and helped craft it are also running their own counter programming, circulating fact memos and talking on the phone to House Republicans who have questions about what is inside that bill.
“GOP senators who supported (bipartisan infrastructure bill) are furious,” one House Republican said.
One Republican senator — Rob Portman of Ohio — told CNN that he wishes GOP leaders would have remained on the sidelines on this one.
“I would like to have seen them remain neutral,” Portman said.
“I have been talking to House Republicans about it,” Portman added. “Every day I talk to a few … They are going to make their own decisions. I am just providing information.”
“People are confusing the two bills, saying that the bad policy that is in the reconciliation bill is in the infrastructure bill, which is not surprising. … But they are very different bills.”
While House Republican leaders have said that their reasoning for opposing the infrastructure bill is because they worry it will pave the way for the massive economic bill, others have questioned that wisdom, arguing that helping to deliver a win on infrastructure could actually take away progressives’ leverage in the reconciliation negotiations.
“What a crazy situation: the House GOP effort to defeat the infrastructure bill is helping the Bernie / AOC strategy of defeating the infra bill in order to get leverage to pass the reconciliation bill,” tweeted Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the US Chamber of Commerce. “If GOP votes yes on infrastructure, progressives lose leverage.”
But McCarthy pushed back on that idea, saying those people “are wrong” and arguing that the contentious Democratic infighting over which of the bills gets a floor vote first only proves their argument that the two are inextricably linked.
“If it wasn’t linked, why didn’t we vote on (infrastructure) on Monday?” McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday.
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.